Gary Allan: Country singer’s life experiences lead to multi-platinum success

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Multi-platinum country singer Gary Allan recently appeared at Rose Music Center in Huber Heights and talked with the Dayton Daily News ahead of that performance.

Allan was in his mid-20s when he signed his first record deal. However, he had already lived a lot of life.

He was a surfer kid who listened to country music and surf punk growing up Mormon in La Mirada, Calif. He started playing in a family band with his father and brother when he was 13 and was performing solo at 15. He later formed his own honky-tonk band, but it would take a decade before his real break came.

After a stint in the Army, the 25-year-old musician was back in California, freshly divorced and running his own construction business. Allan sold off that business when he thought he had a chance to sign with RCA Records. When that didn’t happen, he started selling cars. In a roundabout way, that opened the door to a career in country music thanks to the kindness of some customers at the dealership.

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Credit: Tom Gilliam

A couple who literally owned gold mines in Alaska heard a tape of Allan singing and cut him a check for $12,000, which he used to record a demo in Nashville. Six months later he had a deal with Decca Records. He not only repaid that kind investment in his musical future but gave his benefactors a percentage of record sales.

Allan drew on his life experiences for the material found on his 10 studio albums. His latest, “Ruthless,” dropped in 2021. He has scored 12 Top 10 country hits, four of which hit number one. He released his gold-certified debut album, “Used Heart for Sale,” in 1996, with “It Would Be You” following in 1998. Allan entered his most successful commercial period with a string of platinum albums for MCA Records, “Smoke Rings in the Dark” (1999), “Alright Guy” (2001) and “See If I Care” (2003). His albums “Tough All Over” (2005), “Living Hard” (2007) and “Set You Free” (2013) all went gold.



Allan ranswered some questions via e-mail.

Q: When I last interviewed you in the summer of 2021 one of the main topics was naturally the pandemic. How have concerts been the last few years?

A: Right after the pandemic, things were still a bit slow, but thankfully, they’re now back to pre-pandemic crowds.

Q: Have you noticed any differences in audience perceptions or reactions?

A: The fans are always enthusiastic and ready to have a good time. Seeing them on their feet and singing along to every song is always a great feeling. The band and I feed off that energy every night.

Q: It looks like you’ve been staying active with concerts since February. What’s the musical focus of your live show these days?

A: When I first started touring, I played the singles from the first couple of albums, mixed in with some of my favorite cover songs. I have been doing this for over 25 years, so thankfully, we have a lot of songs to pick from now. I can’t play them all, but I try to play the hits, some fan favorites that were not singles, and mix in a few new things every now and then, too. When I see one of my favorite acts, I want to hear the songs that made me a fan, so I consider that when making my set list.

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Credit: Tom Gilliam

Q: Another big topic in our last interview was “Ruthless,” which was still a new studio album. How was the reception for that album?

A: “Ruthless” was a combination of three different recording sessions over eight years. During that time, I played several of the songs live, but the fans could not hear them except at shows. They were excited to have all those songs available to them finally. We had an album release show in Nashville, and fans from all across the country made the trip to be there. It was just as people were coming out of the pandemic, so it was an exciting time to have new music and be able to tour with it.

Q: What are the plans for following up that album?



A: I have been writing a lot and am starting to get songs together for a new project, but nothing is set in stone just yet.

Q: The industry has changed a lot since you released “Used Heart for Sale” in 1996. How has that changed your approach to making albums?

A: When “Used Heart for Sale” was released, it was available on cassette and CD. Now, everything is digital through the DSPs. We manufactured a few CDs and did two vinyl versions, but most everything was digital. Music is consumed in a completely different way now. We did not have social media on those first releases, and now that is the main way to promote new music. Fans want constant new content, and you have to keep that in mind when releasing new music.

Q: Going back to the early days, how long did you play music with your father and brother? And what kinds of gigs were you doing?

A: I started playing with my dad and brother when I was really young. We played bars all around Orange County, Calif. I was offered my first record deal at age 15, but my dad refused to sign it. He said I imitated people, and I needed to find my own voice. That made me mad, so I quit the family band and started playing on my own. First, it was acoustic gigs with just me and a guitar, and then I finally put a band together. We played all over Orange County as well, and I found my own voice during that time. My dad was right, but I didn’t want to listen to him at the time.

Q: How did those early experiences shape the musician you are today?

A: My dad bought instruments and amps and left them sitting out in our living room. His thought was if we saw them, we would play. If they were in a closet, we would forget about them. He was right, and I played every day. He always had music playing in the house, including everything from Ernest Tubb, Merle Haggard, George Jones, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Buck Owens, so I learned to play all their songs. They were my musical heroes then and still are today. They influenced my music style, how I perform and how I write.

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